Review - The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public: Brand New Start
Of Thee I Sing: 441 performances... Let 'Em Eat Cake: 89 performances
Bye, Bye, Birdie: 607 performances... Bring Back Birdie: 4 performances
Annie: 2,377 performances... Annie II: Miss Hannigan's Revenge: closed in out of town tryouts
The history of Broadway's attempts to make commercially successful sequels of hit musicals is not a pretty one. But the Opening Doors Theatre Company, now in its second season at The Duplex staging pocket-sized versions of some of Broadway's most beloved flops, can offer a fabulously fun time from even the most legendary disaster. Having premiered their Closing Notice series a year and a half ago with Bring Back Birdie, this small but increasingly impressive company headed by Producer/Artistic Director Suzanne Adams now offers a fast and funny mounting of The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public.
Back in 1994 I had a great time at one of Whorehouse Goes Public's 16 Broadway performances, put together by the same creative team that enjoyed a smashing success (1,584 performances) with The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. Once again Tommy Tune served as co-director and co-choreographer, sharing directing duties with Peter Masterson and creating dances with Thommie Walsh. Masterson co-authored the broadly satirical book with Larry L. King and Carol Hall created, in my humble opinion, a score that outdid the original for catchy melodies, ear-pleasing lyrics, snazzy rhythms and good, sincere sentiment. Unlike its modest predecessor, this was a huge production meant to make fun of Las Vegas glitz, featuring a chorus of dazzling ladies of the evening in Bob Mackie gowns, a sizzling star performance by Dee Hoty and a parade of celebrity impersonators, one of whom was dressed as 1/2 Siegfried and 1/2 Roy. The major critics complained it was overly garish, with a flimsy book built on corny sex jokes. Now, stripped of its budget and with the book reduced to its briefest essentials, this eighty-minute presentation is a solid charmer.
When the owner of a legal Nevada brothel suddenly skips town, he leaves his staff of prostitutes unemployed and the IRS stuck for a 26 million dollar debt for back taxes. A fledgling government official tries to impress the higher-ups by hiring the infamous Miss Mona, former madam of Texas' less legal Chicken Ranch brothel, to re-open the Nevada girls store and hopefully earn a large enough profit to make up for the lost money. Not exactly a whiz at finance, Mona asks a former fling, Texas billionaire Sam Dallas, for help and he comes up with the so-crazy-its-gotta-work idea to go public and sell stock in the whorehouse on Wall Street.
Molasses-voiced Brooke Jacob and easy-going twanger Brett Rigby may be about 20 years too young to be playing the middle aged Mona and Sam, wildly attracted to each other but nervous about mixing business with pleasure. Still, their funny and frisky stage chemistry is just right. Jacob's deep tones and talent for clear, attractive riffs beautifully enhance the score's hidden gem of a ballad, "Picture Show," where Mona traces her life's ups and downs. Soon after, she's kicking up her heels in style in the comedy song and dance, "I'm Leaving Texas," pattering out a list of Texas towns in rapid succession. While Rigby's role is more of the "stand there and be charming" variety (which he does very well), he does get to show off some belty pipes in a nightclubbish solo, "A Change In Me."
Burley comic Brian Tom O'Connor is great fun, first as the slippery cab driver who makes millions in the skin game and then stiffs the government for their share and later as the evangelizing U.S. Senator, A. Harry Hardast (I told you it was broadly satirical) who tries to shut down the whorehouse on moral grounds.
A trio of divine-looking honeys (Dana Barathy, Rebecca Greenberg and Lexi Windsor) plays the brothel's star attractions with humor and sex-appeal while Jason B. Schmidt and Justin Jones camp it up grandly as the evil IRS director and his assistant. Rachel Louise Thomas is earnestly perky as the government official trying to get the whorehouse back on its feet... so to speak... and Bryce Bermingham shines in various small roles.
The unamplified vocals of the whole company sound strong and clear under music director Michael Lavine, who's on stage at piano. One of the amazing things about the Opening Doors Company is their ability to stage full-out presentations with large casts without crowding the small Duplex stage. Director Hector Coris and choreographer Dana Boll deliver a swift, fully entertaining production.
During its brief Broadway run, Whorehouse Goes Public's most talked-about scene involved a production number about phone sex titled "Call Me." Scantily-clad showgirls sang of their $3 per minute service while encased individually in Plexiglas cubes while their horny customers, many with their pants down at their ankles, rolled them around the stage. While some thought the staging was cute and clever (cough, cough) many more found it in bad taste. At The Duplex, Boll simplifies matters by having the operators and customers separated by long phone lines in a comical dance that has them weaving their chords around each other while avoiding entanglements. It's a genuine show-stopper and one of the best staged song and dance bits I've seen in years.
Whorehouse ends its run after performances on June 30th and July 1st but Opening Doors will be back in September with the Elaine Stritch star vehicle, Goldilocks. I've got my calendar marked already.